In the news: Joanna Bennett

February 13, 2004

Pressure from Joanna Bennett of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health will prompt ministers to act this week against racism in Britain's mental health services.

Dr Bennett, formerly a senior lecturer and MSc programme director at London South Bank University, has campaigned for changes in training and practice in mental health units since the death of her brother David at a Norfolk clinic in 1998.

Dr Bennett, whose research interests include ethnicity and diversity, medication management and "user and carer involvement", is also a member of the Britain's Mental Health Taskforce, set up by the government in 2000.

Her brother, a Jamaican-born patient being treated for schizophrenia, died after being restrained by nurses and held face down for more than 20 minutes. Efforts to restrain him followed a row with a fellow patient who had racially abused him.

The jury at Mr Bennett's inquest in 2001 returned a verdict of "accidental death aggravated by neglect", and the coroner, William Armstrong, called for a major overhaul of the training of Britain's mental health staff and for changes to practice on the wards.

This week, John Reid, the health secretary, was due to publish the findings of an independent inquiry into the case, chaired by Sir John Blofeld, a retired high court judge. During the hearings, the inquiry panel heard evidence that ethnic minority patients were more likely to be "overmedicated" and restrained than their white counterparts.

A leaked copy of the report suggests that the inquiry has concluded that the National Health Service suffers from "institutional racism".

The inquiry and Dr Bennett's campaign for changes have been hailed by some commentators as being likely to have a similar impact on health services as the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence had on the police.

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